The Faithful Steward
When we talk about stewardship in church, our minds tend to go automatically to the offering plate (or the online giving portal). And while the Bible has much to say about giving, stewardship consists of more than just this. Faithful stewardship is a key component of our walk with God – it includes how we think about the resources God has put in our care. Faithful stewardship is a mindset and a heart condition more than a set of rules about giving.
We can get caught up in the minutiae of stewardship, without a context of overall heart transformation. Jesus upbraided the Pharisees for this kind of thinking. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
So, in the context of a transformed life, what is a Faithful Steward? A faithful steward is one who, first and foremost, recognizes that God is the owner of all things and that we have been entrusted with some of those things for a time to manage for his pleasure. (Genesis 1:1; Exodus 19:5; Psalm 24:1; 1 Corinthians 10:26; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2-3)
Faithful stewardship is the course to true financial freedom. Stewards have responsibilities for the possessions they manage, but no rights to those possessions. All the rights go to the owner. But so does all the concern. For example, financial managers want to perform well for their clients, but if the markets take a downturn, it’s the clients who lose money, not the managers. Similarly, if we look at our possessions as being God’s rather than ours, we are freed from the stress of worrying about what happens to them. We manage them faithfully, and leave the results in God’s hands.
Character Traits of Faithful Stewards
There are many Biblical traits that characterize faithful stewards, but a few that stand out are gratitude, contentment, and generosity.
Faithful stewards are grateful to God because they understand that everything they have comes from Him (James 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:17). They realize that even the ability to work and earn a living comes from God (Deuteronomy 8:17-18), and they remember Him with thanksgiving.
As a result, faithful stewards are content with what they have, whether that is little or plenty (Philippians 4:11-13). This may be one of the most counter-cultural traits of the faithful steward. We’re constantly bombarded with messages that we deserve more, we should want more, we should have more. These messages rob us of contentment and, as a result, keep us from experiencing peace. The faithful steward has peace that comes from contentment.
Finally, faithful stewards are generous. They’re generous because they are first grateful and content. Think of the extravagant gifts given by the Israelites for the construction of the Tabernacle – so much that they finally had to be told to stop! (Exodus 36:2-7) When was the last time that happened in a church building campaign? The Israelites were grateful for God’s release from bondage in Egypt and content with what they had.
Habits of Faithful Stewards
What does the faithful steward’s life look like? First of all, because faithful stewards are grateful, they bless God in times of abundance and in times of lack (Job 1:21). Their lives reflect a consistent positive, hopeful outlook – not an unrealistic “wishful thinking” but a solid faith in their Provider. They pray with thanksgiving even as they present their requests to God (Philippians 4:6).
Second, because faithful stewards are content with what God has provided, they’re not constantly comparing themselves to others. Like the second servant in the Parable of the Talents, they’re not upset that another servant received more from the Master to start with. Instead, they’re concerned only with maximizing the impact of the resources they’ve been given to manage. Because of this contentment, they don’t spend money in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses”. They don’t strive and contend for things they don’t have (James 4:1-3) but rather trust God to provide their needs (see also John the Baptist’s instructions to tax collectors and soldiers who came to faith in Luke 3:12-14).
Because Faithful Stewards recognize their role, they are about the Master’s business (Luke 12:42-43). They use the resources he has provided wisely, not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of others as well and for Kingdom impact. They multiply those resources, like the faithful stewards in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), recognizing their responsibility to care for their Master’s possessions.
Faithful Stewards have a balanced approach to possessions. They know how to enjoy what God has provided for them but they don’t look to earthly riches for security. Faithful stewards put their hope in God, not in wealth, and as a result they are humble and generous (1 Timothy 6:17-19). They serve God rather than money, and have their treasures stored up in heaven (Matthew 6:19-24).
Equipping Faithful Stewards
So how do we move our congregations toward faithful stewardship? First, we’ll need to explode some myths about finances and stewardship – both cultural myths and church myths.
Culture tells us lies like, “Things bring happiness,” “Debt is expected and unavoidable,” and “Give if there’s something left over.” These cultural myths keep people enslaved in materialism and the pursuit of more, and prevent any chance at true financial freedom. We need to counter these myths with the truth of God’s Word and help our congregations avoid the cultural pitfalls.
But the church historically has also promoted misconceptions about stewardship – ideas such as “Stewardship equals giving” and “Stewardship is to help the church.” These narrow views of stewardship miss much that the Bible teaches about being a faithful steward, and as a result they fail to disciple our congregations toward financial freedom. Transformed finances and transformed lives are about more than just the offering plate. We need to present a well-rounded picture of faithful stewardship that incorporates our entire relationship to money.
Along the way, we’ll need to challenge our congregations to understand our role as stewards rather than owners. This requires a major shift in thinking and in the focus of our hearts. The key here is to emphasize the truth that Jesus taught in Matthew 6:21 – that our hearts often follow our treasure. It’s not about waiting for God to change our hearts but rather about living in obedience to his Word and placing our treasure in heaven. By doing this, we put ourselves in a place where God can move our hearts.
Finally, we’ll need to emphasize intentionality. The first two servants in the parable of the talents were intentional about how they handled their master’s money. No doubt they kept track of their investments and understood which were working and which were not, and adjusted accordingly. Being intentional for us involves seemingly mundane tasks like creating a Spending Plan and tracking where the money goes. But this is the kind of discipline that’s required if we’re going to get serious about becoming faithful stewards.
Why it matters
The church that takes seriously the responsibility to disciple its congregation in the area of finances sees results on multiple levels. First, individuals in the congregation begin to experience more freedom and peace as they learn to put money in its rightful place. They develop a sense of purpose that underlies their financial decisions. Second, the church tends to experience the benefits of greater generosity, as congregation members are freed from enslavement to debt and cultural myths to pursue real heart transformation. Finally, the community tends to benefit from the investment and generosity of faithful stewards.